The Revolutions

The 1st Revolution – Basic (1976 to 1986)

The 1st Revolution refers to the fact these editions were mainly focused not on the fireworks but the live music. Fireworks displays in these editions were fairly basic, focusing usually on 1 firing location.

Shows how the early editions of the event were like
Sydney NYE1977 Concert
Photograph: City Of Sydney

NYE1987 & NYE1988 were cancelled due to a mass murder in The Rocks on NYE1986. This came after 7 years of rising violence which was always tried to be prevented.

The 2nd Revolution – Bridge (1989 to 1999)

The Sydney Harbour Bridge was first used and from NYE1994 onwards, the event was used as a ‘test event’ for the Sydney Olympics as well as finding the perfect way to host a NYE party. It culminated with the iconic NYE1999 – ‘Sydney’s Millennium’ display, which shot the event into global popular culture.

Sydney NYE1999 – ‘Sydney’s Millennium’: Midnight Fireworks Finale
Image: Cable News Network

The Millennium celebration was the result of 6 years of ‘test NYE’s’ and coincidentally, the final result was what the organisers of the 1st edition of Sydney NYE (in 1976) dreamt of. And whilst the original organisers of the event didn’t dream of using the Bridge or the Opera House for fireworks, John Bradfield, the architect of the Sydney Harbour Bridge, did predict that the Bridge could one day be used to hold up images which would later become known as the Bridge Effect. This was introduced on NYE1997 as a smiley face and returned in the Millennium display as the word ‘Eternity‘.

The 3rd Revolution – Theme (2000 to 2018)

Themes were added each year centring around the iconic Bridge Effect. Complex narratives thread throughout the night adding a sense of mystery, wonder & excitement to the night. NYE2003 didn’t feature a Bridge Effect due to time constraints from the Rugby World Cup held 2 months prior and every edition after NYE2014 didn’t feature a Bridge Effect because the company that built them went into liquidation. All these editions instead featured a light show instead.

Sydney New Year’s Eve 2014 – ‘Inspire’ – Midnight Fireworks
Photograph: City Of Sydney

The 4th Revolution – Projection (2019)

Fireworks are seen over the Sydney Harbour Bridge and the Sydney Opera House from Grosvenor Place during New Year’s Eve celebrations in Sydney, Tuesday December 31, 2019. (City of Sydney/Daniel Tran)

This revolution should have started on NYE2015 but it didn’t for 4 years. Projection mapping is now synchronised with the fireworks displays. The focus of these years is all on general partying rather than an emotional narrative. The light show is now a major feature

The Next Revolution?

You’ll find these revolutions conicide with the Royal Australian Navy reviews, which are held roughly every 15 years.

Prior to 1976, fireworks displays on Sydney Harbour consisted only of barges and ‘illuminations’ (think of complex designs made of light bulbs) and occurred very rarely (once a decade nearly). This was similar for Navy fireworks displays. The displays were reviewed as the world’s best back then even though globalisation was not a thing. ‘Illuminations’ disappeared after the 1950’s. However, they eventually returned in the form of light shows (1989), lasers (1998), projections (2000) & projection mapping (2008). Once 1976 arrived, an annual fireworks display for New Year’s Eve begun but live music was the main entertainment of the night. It was rather basic entertainment – nothing special to travel around the world for.

In 1986, the Sydney Harbour Bridge was used for fireworks for the 1st time in particular the iconic ‘golden waterfall’ effect, which has featured in every major display except in the 2013 International Fleet Reviews & on NYE2018, when it malfunctioned. The Bridge was used as part of fireworks for the Royal Australian Navy 75th Anniversary Review. The 1st ever fireworks soundtrack debut for a Sydney Harbour fireworks display. Computer technology started to be introduced for the displays.

In 2001, the Royal Australian Navy planned a massive fireworks display called The Battle Of Sydney Harbour as part of Centenary Of Federation celebrations. However, due to the September 11 attacks, it was cancelled. A similar display didn’t take place until 2013. However, the proposal signalled the arrival of complex emotional narratives to the displays.

In 2013, the International Fleet Review Spectacular introduced projection mapping synchronisations to the fireworks displays. This finally appeared on NYE for the 1st time in the 2019 edition. However, the complex narrative aspect has since been dropped.

The next revolution would be expected in around 2028. What can we expect then?